Tirumala Vimana Swamy, Heston Blumenthal & a pilgrimage of a different kind

After finishing the darshan of Lord Balaji most of us come out of the temple craning our necks to have a darshan of the image of Vimana Venkateshwara Swamy,  carved out on the north eastern side of the three tiered gopuram. There are several legendary stories behind this ritual that began when the Garbha Gruha was closed down for several years. Some even say, that in the days when there is an extreme rush of pilgrims resulting in a fleeting darshan of the main deity, a leisurely darshan of Vimana Swamy is enough to obtain the benefits or blessings of the lord!

My son Sanket and I are great fans of watching cookery shows by various celebrity chefs. Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal are particular favorites. While Gordon has an in your face aggressive attitude and does a variety of shows, Heston does fewer shows and has a far more relaxed presentation style. Between the two, I am more inclined to Heston, for the sheer amount of research he puts into each dish, the creativity with which he re-interprets traditional dishes, the flexible approach and his willingness to drop ideas that do not work out, the involvement of the man on the street for obtaining feedback on his creations and lastly the detailed explanations he gives to the actual cooking process itself in terms of molecular gastronomy and the modernist methods that he applies.

With the closure of Elbuli run by Ferran Adria, ‘ Fat Duck’ Heston’s signature restaurant (located at Bray, an English village, quite close to London) is probably back to being the best restaurant in the world and a visit here is considered a foodies’ pilgrimage. Getting a reservation would mean making plans months in advance. Unfortunately for us, second year in a row, we tried and failed to obtain one during our annual visit to TED Global conferences held in the UK.  I was mentioning this disappointment to another friend, who suggested that we at least try out either of the pubs in Bray, that Heston has taken over in recent times, as they serve some excellent pub food with the fine dining experience, one associates Heston with. More importantly they do not have the same waiting lists as Fat Duck !

Reservations made and done at The Crown and D-Day finally arrives. Bray is a typical single road sleepy english village, and The Crown, is an even more typical British pub. As one enters and navigates its low ceilings, there is nothing “Heston” or fine dining about it. Cramped and woody. We were guided to our table and thus begins our gastronomical journey.

I order Potted Smoked Mackerel, Cornichons, Chargrilled bread for starters and Roasted Fillet of Hake, Hake fishcake,Garden peas,lemon and tomato as the mains,while Sanket ordered Chicken Liver Parfait, Toasted Brioche and Sweet & Sour onions for starters and good old Fish and Chips, Crushed peas with Tartar sauce for the mains.

Both of us loved our respective choices and enjoyed subtle flavors of each dish. I personally enjoyed the combination of a fillet and fish cake. Sanket liked his Chicken Liver Parfait.

Post the meal we both walk to Fatduck, hoping against hope that some how we could barge in and at least get a photo opp with the man himself. ( My suggestion)  Much to my dismay, the door was closed very intimidatingly. Whilst we could sense the restaurant itself was full, there was no hope in hell of us actually being able to ring the bell and ask to meet Heston. (Blame my Indian/ Guntur upbringing for believing that we can barge in any where unannounced 🙂 )

And yes while we did have our dessert earlier at the pub, the actual sweetener for me was the father-son bonding that this whole experience brought ! Watching TV shows together is one thing, actually experiencing it is quite another. l now look forward to some exciting culinary adventures with Sanket, life long.

The other thing of course was for a person whose culinary habits did not go beyond Chicken 65 and Curdrice till I moved to Singapore five years ago, this was indeed an experience very much like a pilgrimage.Next time though, I will make sure the doors of the Garba Gruha are open and I will be able to see Lord Heston himself.

With the blessings of Vimana Swamy of course  !


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